Miriam’s Birth Stories: Two Very Different Births Using Hypnobirthing
December 2014: My daughter’s birth
My birth story began on the 12th December 2014, five days past my ‘due date’. The night before, I had slept at my parent’s house as I hadn’t been sleeping well at home. After weeks, if not months, of restless nights, I needed a good nights sleep in a bed all to myself. And a good nights sleep I got! I woke up, made tea and toast and climbed into bed with my mum. We sat for a couple of hours chatting, laughing and imagining what the little person inside my tummy was going to be like. Looking back now, it was a very special time. I was utterly relaxed in the company of those I love and felt completely safe and secure in the home I grew up in.
My mum and I had a relaxing day together at home and then around 4pm I started to feel tightenings across my abdomen. I’d been having similar feelings for a week or two so didn’t think anything of it. Around 4:45pm I was instinctively walking up and down the living room, completely relaxed and in no pain but I just felt the need to be upright and moving. My mum kept saying ‘its started, its definitely started’ but I just laughed and said that it was nothing. At 5:30pm, Mum called my husband, Tom, to say that she thought it would be a good idea if he came home from work. I insisted that I was fine but obviously, if anyone knew the signs that I was in labour then my Mum did!
When we got back to our house, Tom ran the bath for me, lit candles and put on some relaxing music on (we’d put together a birth playlist a couple of weeks before). I reassured him that labour definitely hadn’t started and I just needed to take my mind off the sensations in my tummy. So, we chatted and laughed about our days and carried on as normal. When the wave-like feeling in my tummy came, we stopped talking, I closed my eyes and waited for it to pass. After a couple of hours, my body had moved onto all fours in the bath. It was the only way I could get comfortable. I was moaning through some of the surges at this point but I still kept telling Tom that I wasn’t in labour and not to call our midwife or the hospital. However, he did and he was right to! The hospital said to wait until my surges were 3 minutes apart and about 1 minute long. We weren’t far off!
After speaking to the hospital, the calmness I felt shifted and I started to feel a little tense. The surges were getting much stronger and I knew I needed to focus on bringing myself back into relaxation. I got out of the bath and went into the bedroom. The lights were out and Tom had set up the birthing ball by the bed with my hypnobirthing cd playing. As I knelt over the ball, swaying from side to side, I tried to remember everything I had been taught in my hypnobirthing classes. I visualised a rose bud opening, a hot air balloon rising in the sky and I told myself to trust my body and my baby. I also imagined my labour lasting only a few hours from start to finish. That was my goal and so that was what I was going to make happen! It seems silly writing it now but I have to say, it really helped me stay positive, focused and, most of all, excited about the birth of my baby. At no time did I feel scared or fearful of what was happening to me.
By now, the surges were coming every four minutes and were almost a minute long. I had moved downstairs to the living room, where I was sat rolling on my birthing ball in front of the log fire with candles burning in the room. It was incredibly beautiful and calm. My sister, Frances, had arrived but stayed out of the living room in order for Tom and I to focus on our hypnobirthing techniques. I had said that I wanted her at the birth and so just knowing she was in the other room was very reassuring to me. She was also a great support to Tom. At 10pm, our midwife advised us to make our way to the hospital. It became a little stressful at this point as Tom had to leave me to get things ready and packed in the car. Frances sat in front of me and rocked with me as my surges came and went. However, the mood had shifted as I was now feeling quite stressed about the idea of going to the hospital. I was comfortable and secure at home and thought I was doing pretty well. The last thing I wanted to do was get dressed and venture outside into the cold.
Getting to the hospital was not easy – I tried to listen to my cd through headphones but the surges were intense so I found it hard to concentrate. I had been taken out of my safe place and now felt uncomfortable and not in control. The road to the hospital was also closed so we had to turn around and take an alternative route – not ideal!
When we finally arrived at the hospital, my midwife examined me and I was 6-7cm. I could not get into the birthing pool fast enough! What a relief it was when I submerged my body into the warm water. The lights were dimmed and the music was playing once again. I felt like I was back in my own secure, private place where I could now get on with what I needed to do. I was offered gas and air but the minute the mouthpiece was put in front of me, I pushed it away – it was the last thing I wanted. I felt completely in control and didn’t want to loose that feeling. I could manage the sensations I was experiencing and so didn’t feel the need for any pain relief whatsoever.
My midwife was incredible – she knew we were doing hypnobirthing so she used all the right language when I started to struggle, particularly as the surges were now really strong. She would tell me to bring my breathing down after each surge and would breath calmly and slowly with me so that I could follow her rhythm. She was so encouraging when the time was right. As for Tom, he used hypnobirthing “anchors” and massage to bring me back into relaxation when I started to get tense and kept saying the affirmations to me after each surge. He certainly had a role to play and I couldn’t have done it without him. He was extraordinary.
Just after midnight, I felt a strong ‘bearing down’ feeling and I knew it was time for my baby to make her way into the world. My midwife, Frances and Tom were all around me and I felt completely supported and safe. I breathed my baby down for 12 minutes and then her head appeared. We all waited for the next surge (which felt like a lifetime!) and at 12:34am on the 13th December, she was brought up slowly through the water and placed on my chest. My midwife told me to blow gently on my baby’s face and as I did, my little girl took her first breath and looked straight into my eyes. She was so calm and peaceful. I had skin to skin with her and then she was passed to Tom so he could do the same. Words can’t describe the feeling. It’s like nothing else on earth. The sense of relief and achievement is overwhelming.
My midwife then arranged for me to move to the maternity ward where I would be staying over night. As she left, I whispered to Tom that I felt fine and I just wanted to get home. So, Tom spoke to the midwife and at 3:45am Tom and I walked into our house carrying the new addition to our family. By 4am we were lying in bed staring at her whilst she slept in her moses basket. It was like looking at an angel.
The following morning, I stepped out of the shower and caught my naked body in the mirror. For the first time in my life, I thought to myself “Wow, my body is amazing and beautiful. I’m so privileged to be a woman.” This was all thanks to hypnobirthing and the tools it gave me to work with and trust my body. I had a new found respect for the power within myself and what my mind and body were capable of. It changed my way of thinking forever.
Not only was the birth extraordinary, but the lead up brought my husband and I closer together. He played an instrumental role in every stage of pregnancy and the birth. Hypnobirthing gives the partners the tools and knowledge to work with and support the mother so that they too feel empowered.
July 2016: My son’s birth
When I found out I was pregnant for the second time, I felt very fortunate that I would have the opportunity to go through the experience all over again..
For nine months, I put all my efforts into creating the environment I wanted my baby to be born into – we planned for a home birth, bought the birth pool, invested in new lighting around the house, bought new blinds for the windows and created a safe and private space. I asked close friends and family to write birth affirmations for me which I had up around the house to encourage me during pregnancy and birth. My husband and I practiced Hypnobirthing every day and felt confident and excited about using it in the comfort of our own home when the time arrived.
Fast forward to the 5th July 2016: That morning, I took my then 18 month old daughter to her 'Sing & Sign' class. Following the class, we joined some friends for tea in a nearby cafe. After half an hour of being there I felt like I was leaking down below but rather than it feel like my waters were going, it felt more like a period starting. After checking in the toilets, it was clear to me that there was a problem. I didn't panic at that point - I knew there was no point as stress would only effect the baby and that was the last thing I wanted. So, I went out and asked a friend to check for me. When she saw the blood, it was clear to both of us that I needed to get to hospital as soon as possible. Rather than ring for an ambulance, which in hindsight I should have absolutely done, I jumped in the car with my daughter and headed home. En route, I called my husband and my midwife and explained that I was bleeding heavily – it was a very surreal experience. Surely this wasn't happening to me, I thought. I've been so healthy throughout my pregnancy and I had it all worked out in my head how my labour was going to go!
My wonderful midwife soon arrived and drove me to the hospital. Within minutes of arriving at the maternity unit, I had a cannula in my hand to get fluids in me. My baby's heart rate showed clear signs that he was in distress. When my midwife informed me that it was very likely I'd need to birth my baby at the hospital, I let out a very loud cry and wept. I couldn't believe that I wasn't going to get my longed-for home birth. I was devastated and refused to believe it. At that moment my husband arrived at the hospital – hospital bag, birthing ball and birth affirmations all in hand – and he held me whilst I sobbed for the birth I was beginning to loose and the different route it was inevitably going to take. Before any more doctors came in to see me, my husband suggested we do some Hypnobirthing relaxation. I thought it was the last thing I wanted to do as it would only remind me of the natural birth I was hoping for but, in fact, it was the best decision. As I laid in the bed, my husband read the Stroking Relaxation script to me. I immediately went into deep relaxation and brought my breathing right down. I switched off from all the noise and movement happening on the ward behind the purple curtain and started to feel more and more calm and in control. I knew that, whatever journey we were about to go down, being in control was very important and I couldn't do that from a stressed and emotional place.
My baby's heart rate continued to be a concern and I continued to bleed. At 1:30pm, I was taken to the labour ward. There I was, sat up in a bed, monitors on my tummy hooked up to a machine with doctors and consultants walking in and out, whispering to one another about 'next steps'. All the while, my husband pulled out our Hypnobirthing book and continued to read the relaxation scripts to me – it was amazing how quickly I relaxed and switched off from all the commotion in the room. I can honestly say that, if it wasn't for him doing this, I wouldn't have coped as well as I did.
The doctor asked for my permission to break my waters as they needed to know whether there was any blood in the membranes. This would indicate whether there was a problem with the placenta. I asked what the risks were if I didn't agree to this as I wanted everything about my baby's birth to be as natural as possible. However, I hadn't even gone into labour yet so things weren't even moving along and it was clear we needed to get my baby out sooner rather than later. Once I felt I had all the information required to make an informed decision, I agreed to the procedure. My waters were pink which confirmed their fear that there was a problem with the placenta.
I was told that they were going to give me some time before making any further decisions to see how my body responded to the waters breaking. My husband and I spent this time doing our Hypnobirthing – I particularly wanted to hear him read out the Positive Birth Affirmations. I found this incredibly calming. Each affirmation resonated with me and helped me to remain positive, confident and, most importantly, connected to my baby. I was now aware of regular surges which made me feel relieved as I knew my body was starting to bring my baby into the world. However, after 40 minutes, my baby's heart-rate continued to be a concern and so I was asked to be examined. I agreed to this as I knew it was important in helping us decide on the next-steps. I was 3 centimetres dilated but by now, it was clear that some serious decisions needed to be made. Our doctor advised us that it was likely the placenta had started to come away from the uterine wall which meant that his oxygen would be compromised. If our baby wasn't born soon then there was a risk of brain damage, cerebral palsy or even the unthinkable. By now, my husband was very keen for me to agree to a caesarean but I continued to ask lots of questions about the benefits, risks and alternatives. I knew time wasn't on our side but getting myself informed meant that I could go forward on this journey knowing it was right for me and our baby.
When I finally agreed to a caesarean, the atmosphere changed very quickly. 10 people were suddenly in the room with a job to do. The anaesthetist was explaining the spinal block, the surgeon was describing the procedure, I was signing papers, I had someone putting stockings on my leg, getting me changed, monitors and wires moved about....it was very overwhelming. However, throughout all of this, my husband remained totally calm. Every time I looked over at him for reassurance, he would be breathing slowly and calmly. This really helped me to remain in control.
As I was wheeled into theatre, the sense of urgency became even more apparent. It was then that I realised I had made the right decision … and I was empowered by that. Everything happened very quickly and before I knew it, I was lying down, unable to feel the bottom part of my body, a gauze up in front of me with the surgeon saying 'baby is nearly out'. Throughout the procedure, my husband continued to use the stroking relaxation on my arm. This is a Hypnobirthing technique used to help mothers go into deep relaxation very quickly and we had practised it every night in the months running up to this day. I wasn't really aware of him doing it at the time, but I remember feeling very reassured and safe. He would whisper birth affirmations into my ear so I remained calm and focussed too. As my baby was lifted up over the gauze, a huge sense of relief and joy washed over me. It was a boy! We were absolute right to have a caesarean - there were clots in the uterus which confirmed that the placenta had started to come away from the uterine wall, plus the umbilical cord was very tightly wrapped twice around my son's neck.
He was immediately placed on my chest for skin-to-skin. Within minutes, my midwife was rubbing a piece of gauze over my son's face. This is called vaginal 'seeding' – early studies show that swabbing a mother’s vagina and transferring it to her baby’s mouth, eyes and skin may stimulate microbiome development similarly to babies born naturally – and protect it from health issues later in life. I had put this on my birth preferences sheet and, although it was very important to me, I had totally forgotten about it. My husband ensured this happened by speaking to the surgeon and midwife when we went into theatre. I had written my birth preferences (otherwise known as a birth plan) a month before. However, a few days before the caesarean, I decided to add a section called 'In case of a caesarean' and I'm so glad I did (call it a mother's instinct!). I listed six things I would like should my birth take this route, including skin-to-skin and vaginal seeding. I discussed my plan with my husband and he added his preferences. I knew that he could then ensure those choices were listened to and administered. Although my son's birth was an emergency and I never went into labour, my husband played an active part in our son's birth. He protected my choices , my calm environment and my state of mind.
My son spent an uninterrupted hour on my chest...it was heaven on earth. All the standard checks such as weighing and measuring took place after the first feed and then my husband had some all important skin-to-skin time too. Whilst I was pregnant, I hired a breastfeeding counsellor – I wanted to feel more confident and supported this time as my feeding experience was pretty devastating with my daughter. I knew that getting the right support at the right time was really important so, when I went into hospital, my sister called the breastfeeding counsellor so she could be ready to see me when the time was right. She was there that evening and spent an hour with me, making sure I was completely comfortable and confident with breastfeeding. This made a huge difference to my first night with my son. When my husband left the hospital at 11pm, as is policy at East Surrey Hospital, I spent the entire night with my son on my chest, bursting with overwhelming love for this amazing human being that I had grown for nine months. It was like we were in our own bubble together, recovering from what had happened that afternoon, feeling relieved that we were safe, well and happy in each others arms. It was the most beautiful night and I will treasure it always.
I never imagined my son being born by emergency caesarean and it has taken me a while to process everything that happened. However, as I lay awake with my baby during that night in hospital, I realised I could draw many positives from the experience. I felt totally safe and supported, not only by my husband but by my caregivers too. The midwives, consultants and doctors were amazing. I felt listened to and respected and remained in control every step of the way. Throughout the experience, I continued to feel that ultimately my husband and I were responsible for my baby's birth so I ensured that any decisions were made from an informed and rational place. Finally, as a Hypnobirthing teacher, I feel fortunate that I have now experienced two very different but beautiful births. I used Hypnobirthing for both and my experiences have only cemented my belief in the power of what I teach.